My Review of Mr Kafka & Other Tales from the Time of the Cult by Bohumil Hrabal at Numéro Cinq

I’m thrilled to announce that my first review for Numéro Cinq is now live. Here’s a taste and a link to the entire review, an excellent online magazine, and your chance to see what a rough ghost really looks like!

Mr KafkaMr. Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult, recently released by New Directions, represents the latest addition to the growing body of work by the late Czech author, Bohumil Hrabal, to be made available to an English speaking audience. Composed and set, for the most part, during the early years of Communist era Czechoslovakia, this collection of seven short stories is deeply informed by a time when Stalin’s larger-than-life cult of personality loomed over a country unwillingly caught up in the thrust of major social and economic reforms. Yet, as the author indicates in his preface, this book can be seen as both a representation of his society’s evolution, and as an expression of his own creative evolution. During this period there was no single experience more profound for Hrabal, the writer, than his recruitment, in 1949, as a “volunteer” manual labourer at the Poldi Steelworks in the town of Kladno near Prague.

Today the Koněv division of the steelworks where Hrabal worked stands in ruin. During his term of service though, it was a bustling operation devoted to turning the wreckage of war into the raw material required for, among other things, armaments for the forces of the Soviet Union. Although he studied law, Hrabal had worked at a variety of positions including railway dispatcher, insurance agent and salesman prior to finding himself on the factory floor of the steelworks. He arrived in the company of an assortment of other white-collar workers and professionals who suddenly found themselves engaged in unfamiliar work in a strange and dangerous environment alongside seasoned labourers, Party hacks, and prisoners.

Read the rest of the review here.



Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

11 thoughts on “My Review of Mr Kafka & Other Tales from the Time of the Cult by Bohumil Hrabal at Numéro Cinq”

    1. I don’t think he was translated into English before 1971 when the film version of Closely Observed Trains came out. This collection has never been translated before and I almost felt like I was reading a missing link. It is a perfect counter balance to Dancing Lessons For the Advanced in Age because his more typical work seems to run between the two in style. He published a number of works in the early 1960’s (in Czech of course) when the Communist censorship loosened a little (until the Soviet invasion of 1968). He was clearly writing during the 1950’s but did not publish much.

      It is amazing how much work has come out and is still to come (he left 18 volumes of collected works). Because he was famous for cutting pasting and re-working material, some say that all of the “important” material has already been translated, but who’s to say? He was such an important and beloved Czech writer. (You can see I did my homework for this review, but thoroughly enjoyed it and learned a lot.)


      1. I’d thought 1971 as well but there seems to be a 1968 translation of A Close Watch on the Trains published by Cape. I take your point about him using pieces more than once – I think a user’s guide is needed, and I know just the man to write it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well I was glancing at the gospel according to Wikipedia, so you may well be right. 🙂 I definitely want to read more Hrabal and more Czech literature in general. I’ve actually been learning to read some Czech, mostly because I have no familiarity with a Slavic language. I can order a beer and ask where the bathroom is, so I’ll be set for “on the ground” research one day!

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I read Bohumil Hrabal’s I Served the King of England back in 2009 (when Vintage Classics republished some of his work here in the UK) and felt completely ambivalent about it so never bothered to explore by him. But your review has made me think twice.

    Congrats on the new gig, too, and lovely at last to put a face to the name 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hrabal might not be to everyone’s taste but having spent so much time exploring the context of his work and reading several other early books, I feel a strong affinity. I think he will be one of those writers I look to spend time with when the mood strikes or when nothing else is grabbing me. My first Hrabal was Harlequin’s Millions, a later novel, which I read earlier this year.

      Thanks for the good words, the Numéro Cinq “gig” gives me room to explore a book at greater depth. The editor is great, his faith in my writing has been really valuable, and I like and respect his philosophy. The picture, well, kind of scary to be out there, real name and all. Thank god my friend took that shot without my knowledge when I was South Africa. One reason I took up photography was to stay behind the camera!

      Liked by 1 person

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